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How to Become a Psychologist

Responsibilities, working hours, what to expect and qualifications needed

Career guides » How to Become a Psychologist

What does a psychologist do?

A psychologist is a qualified mental health professional who specialises in studying, researching, understanding and analysing the human mind and how it influences people’s behaviour and emotions. Psychologists use scientific methods, observation and testing to help and treat people with various mental disorders and life issues.

Psychology is often confused with psychiatry, but the fields do differ. Psychiatrists are medically qualified doctors who can prescribe medication, whereas psychologists are registered health professionals with postgraduate training. They often work together, but the roles are different. Please see our article on how to become a psychiatrist for further information.

Psychologists can work in various settings, such as hospitals, clinics, private practices, educational institutions, businesses, government agencies, prisons, courts, etc. They also specialise in different areas of psychology, e.g. clinical, counselling, child, educational, forensic, health and many others. Therefore, what psychologists do will depend on where they work and their specialisms.

A psychologist’s main aim is to use their knowledge and expertise to help their patients cope with what is going on in their lives so they can better manage their mental health conditions. They help solve problems and improve patients’ health, happiness and well-being. In some cases, their interventions can be life-saving.

Psychologists will have many duties, including keeping up to date, researching and analysing, assessing patients, making diagnoses, producing/recommending treatment plans, providing treatments and therapies, advising patients, referring patients, training and supervising, working with other healthcare professionals, etc. The role will also have an element of administrative work, such as maintaining confidential records/other documentation and writing reports.

Depending on their specialisms, psychologists can work with different patients/clients, e.g. children, adolescents, adults, seniors, families, couples, groups, business owners and even animals. They may also liaise with various external stakeholders, including doctors, nurses, psychiatrists, counselling psychologists, therapists, social workers, probation officers, teachers, local authorities, etc.

A psychologist can work for different-sized organisations. They mainly work for the NHS but can also work for other employers, such as local authorities (e.g. social services), private providers, charities and those in education. Some psychologists may have their own practice and become self-employed, freelance or work through recruitment agencies.


Psychologists’ responsibilities will depend on many factors, including their role, who they work for, where they work and the area in which they specialise. For example, child psychologists will have different duties compared to forensic psychologists.

Some examples of psychologists’ day-to-day duties may include (this list is not exhaustive):

  • Keeping up to date on their chosen specialism.
  • Researching and analysing human thinking, emotions, factors and behaviours.
  • Assessing patients to identify emotional and behavioural patterns.
  • Using various scientific methods, theories, techniques, tests and assessments to help understand patients’ issues and make diagnoses.
  • Producing and recommending treatment plans most suited to patients’ needs and diagnoses.
  • Providing the most appropriate treatments, therapies and support based on patients’ conditions and discussing this with them.
  • Advising patients on setting realistic goals and how best to manage their problems.
  • Referring patients for further assessment, treatment or support where required.
  • Working with other healthcare professionals on diagnoses and treatment plans.
  • Training and supervising junior staff, e.g. assistant psychologists.
  • Maintaining confidential records and other documentation and writing reports.
  • Adhering to professional standards and ethical guidelines.

Working hours

Psychologists can expect to work 35-40 hours a week, usually Monday-Friday, 9 am-5 pm. However, they can do more or fewer hours depending on their role.

Some psychologists may have to work unsociable hours, e.g. evenings, weekends and bank holidays. There may be a requirement to be on-call for emergencies.

Most psychologists work full-time. However, flexible opportunities may be available, e.g. part-time, job share, working from home or hybrid jobs. Some may be self-employed or work on temporary contracts.

Travel may be necessary for psychologists, i.e. those who visit patients in the community. Overnight stays and overseas work are uncommon but may be a part of some roles.

What to expect

Being a psychologist is not for the faint-hearted, as they will face many challenges. However, helping patients with mental health disorders and other life issues can be rewarding. Also, seeing patients happier, healthier and leading better quality lives can be fulfilling.

It is a fantastic role for individuals with a thirst for knowledge and a passion for helping patients with mental health issues. They will need a keen understanding of how the mind works and expertise in various mental health disorders and associated problems. The job can also be fascinating, with many scientific advancements and technological developments.

There are numerous areas of psychology in which to specialise, a variety of settings to work in and no shortage of jobs in this field. Therefore, individuals looking at a career as a psychologist are unlikely to face job insecurity. There are also opportunities to work across the UK and overseas for some.

The salary is competitive, even when starting this career. Some experienced psychologists can earn around £50,000 a year, increasing to over £100,000 in more senior roles and specific specialisms. However, the earnings reflect the qualifications, time, cost and commitment to become psychologists. The salaries alone should not be the sole reason for entering this profession.

If an individual is self-employed with their own practice, they can have better flexibility regarding working hours and schedules. It can help them to have a decent work-life balance and more time for family, friends and holidays.

No two days will be the same for psychologists, so boredom is unlikely to be an issue. Each day will bring patients from all backgrounds and cultures with various problems. Psychologists can use their knowledge and skills to assess, diagnose and treat patients using the most effective methods.

Even though being a psychologist is rewarding, and there are many positives associated with the role, they may also face challenges, for example:

  • Challenging patients – working with people who have mental health problems and other life struggles can be difficult and stressful for psychologists. Some patients don’t want to be helped, are unwilling to participate or are unable to improve, which can be frustrating. In some cases, psychologists may also face a risk of violence, which individuals must bear in mind when considering this as a career.
  • Qualifications and registration – individuals wanting to be psychologists will need to be prepared to go to university for many years to undertake undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications in psychology. It is costly to do degrees, but student loan options are available. After qualifying, individuals must also complete further training and register with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) to practise as a psychologist. Being committed to a life of study is a must.
  • Emotional demands – psychologists must be prepared to deal with and listen to patients with life struggles, psychological distress and various mental health conditions. Depending on their specialisms, they may see patients who have experienced loss, abuse, violence, accidents and other trauma. It can be emotionally demanding and upsetting to listen to and see individuals not coping.
  • Erratic schedules – some psychologists’ working schedules can be chaotic. They may have unbalanced days, i.e. seeing numerous patients one day and only a couple the next. There may also be situations where they are on-call for emergencies, and patients may contact them with no notice and therefore they work at unsociable hours.


Every career choice has pros and cons, and prospective psychologists must know what to expect before deciding whether it is a suitable role. Patients can be challenging, there are emotional demands, and work schedules can be erratic. Individuals must also be committed to a life of studying and training. However, there are many positives and helping patients with mental health issues is why so many enter the profession.

When deciding whether to be a psychologist, individuals must consider the pros and cons and ensure they have the necessary personal qualities to carry out the role and responsibilities required.

Personal qualities needed to be a psychologist

Some of the personal qualities a psychologist requires will include (this list is not exhaustive):

  • A passion for helping people and improving their quality of life.
  • An enjoyment of working closely with people.
  • An understanding of ethics.
  • Knowledge of healthcare, mental health and psychology.
  • Knowledge of related legislation and standards.
  • Knowledge of confidentiality, data protection and the GDPR.
  • Knowledge of statistical methods and data analysis.
  • Having a caring attitude, compassion, sensitivity, empathy and understanding.
  • Having a caring attitude, compassion, sensitivity, empathy and understanding.
  • Having confidence, patience, tolerance, tact and a reassuring manner.
  • Having a non-judgemental and person-centred approach.
  • Having self-awareness, including examination of own thoughts and values.
  • Excellent interpersonal skills, i.e. dealing with patients, relatives and other healthcare professionals.
  • Excellent communication skills, both written and verbal.
  • Excellent counselling and active listening skills.
  • Observational skills.
  • Problem-solving skills.
  • Research, investigation and analytical skills.
  • Good time management.
  • Being motivated and committed to helping people.
  • Being positive.
  • Being open-minded.
  • Being thorough and having attention to detail.
  • Being flexible and open to change.
  • The ability to work both in a team and alone using own initiative.
  • The ability to communicate and interact with people of all ages.
  • The ability to understand people’s behaviour and reactions.
  • The ability to challenge positively.
  • The ability to be resilient in emotionally demanding situations.
  • The ability to gain people’s trust, respect and confidence.
  • The ability to develop relationships and build rapport while maintaining boundaries.
  • The ability to accept criticism.
  • The ability to work well under pressure and remain calm in stressful situations.
  • The ability to use IT equipment and software competently.

Qualifications and training


To become a psychologist, individuals need an undergraduate degree and postgraduate qualifications.

Undergraduate degree

Individuals wanting to become psychologists must complete a British Psychological Society (BPS) accredited psychology degree.

Undergraduate degrees can take between three and four years full-time and up to six years part-time.

Individuals typically need two or three good A Levels or equivalent to get on to an undergraduate degree course.

The entry requirements and the number of UCAS points needed will depend on each university, and individuals should check before applying.

Some institutions may also invite applicants for an interview as part of the selection process.

Graduate membership

After completing their psychology degree or conversion course, individuals must apply for graduate membership (GMBPsS) status to get work experience before postgraduate training.

Postgraduate qualifications

Once an individual has their undergraduate degree, they must complete a postgraduate qualification in their chosen specialism accredited by the BPS and approved by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC).

Some examples include (this list is not exhaustive):

  • MSc Clinical Psychology.
  • MSc Health Psychology.
  • MSc Forensic Psychology.
  • MSc Occupational Psychology.
  • MSc Sport & Exercise Psychology.


As there is fierce competition for placements, individuals will typically need the following:

  • A first or 2:1 (upper second class) degree.
  • Relevant work experience, e.g. clinical and research.
  • Proof of excellent research skills.


Some institutions may accept individuals with a lower 2:1 or 2:2 if they have relevant postgraduate qualifications, e.g. MSc or PhD. However, it is best to check the entry requirements of each institution, as they are likely to differ.

Individuals need a BPS-accredited postgraduate degree or a psychology conversion course if:

  • Their psychology degree is not BPS accredited.
  • They have a degree in a subject other than psychology.


Once an individual has completed their postgraduate qualification, they can apply for HCPC registration and BPS chartered status.

Child Speaking with Psychologist

Work experience

Individuals must undertake relevant paid or voluntary work experience to secure a place on postgraduate courses.

They could:

  • Work as an assistant psychologist under the supervision of a psychologist.
  • Gain experience in research, e.g. in academia, as an assistant.
  • Work or volunteer in the NHS, nursing, mental health services, social work, care work, disability services, prison service, substance misuse recovery, victim support and charitable work.
  • Work or volunteer in any role that involves interacting with individuals with mental health, physical or behavioural problems.
  • Shadow an experienced psychologist in the area in which they want to specialise.


Individuals can browse job websites to look for relevant roles that could help them get experience. There is also information on volunteering and local opportunities on Do-IT, NCVO and Volunteering Matters.

The work experience needed will depend on the entry requirements. Most institutions require at least 12 months of work experience. Some may stipulate specific types of work experience. Individuals should always check the entry requirements.

Becoming a Psychologist

Training courses

Learning does not stop with experience or once someone becomes qualified. Attending relevant training courses and having additional certifications can help individuals enter the profession, enhance their employability and keep their knowledge and skills current.

We have many approved mental health courses that can be useful for individuals looking for a career as a psychologist.

We also have other relevant topics, such as (this list is not exhaustive):

  • COVID-19 awareness.
  • Equality and diversity.
  • Disability awareness.
  • Introduction to health and safety.
  • Assessing risk.
  • Violence at work.
  • Understanding GDPR.
  • Customer service skills.
  • Workplace stress awareness.
  • Time management.
  • Resilience training.
  • Lone working.
  • Workplace first aid.
  • Safeguarding.


Professional bodies and associations, such as the British Psychological Society (BPS), the Association of Clinical Psychologists UK (ACP-UK), the Association of Educational Psychologists (AEP), the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES), the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), and others, can also advise on reputable training courses. Some also provide memberships, events and support to help individuals become psychologists and give those already in the profession the means to continue their professional development. Continuing professional development (CPD) is mandatory to remain on accredited registers.

The type of training required will depend on what employers are looking for, an individual’s specialisms and the CPD requirements for accreditation and registration. As well as looking at professional body websites, it is also worth looking at several job advertisements to identify the courses required and other training needed for specialist roles. Jobs are on NHS Jobs, BPS Jobs, Jobs in Psychology, HealthJobsUK, BMJ Jobs, Health Careers, JobsMedical and other job sites, such as GOV.UK Find a Job Service, LinkedIn, Glassdoor and Indeed. Also, look at recruitment agencies, such as Pulse and JobMedic.

More relevant training and competence will open up more opportunities for psychologists. Refresher training will also be required, as it is a legal requirement, and it keeps knowledge and skills up to date.

Chartered membership

Individuals need a BPS-accredited undergraduate and a postgraduate degree to become chartered psychologists. They must also apply for chartered membership (CPsychol), which requires additional assessments and training. There is also an annual membership fee.

Further information on gaining membership is on the BPS’s website.


Individuals must also register with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). They will need to hold a qualification from an HCPC-approved education programme and apply to get on the register.

The register will require registrants to adhere to HCPC standards. Also, registration will need renewing, i.e. annually, and there is a cost.

Criminal records checks

Psychologists must undergo a criminal record check, as they may work with children and vulnerable adults. A criminal record, caution, warning or conviction may deter prospective employers and affect registration. However, employers should account for the seriousness of the crime, when it occurred and its relevance to the role.

The organisation that holds criminal records will depend on the country within the UK, for example:



Some psychologists will drive as part of their role, especially when working in the community and at different healthcare centres. Therefore, they should have a full clean driving licence.


Where do psychologists work?

Psychologists can work in many different settings, including (this list is not exhaustive):

  • Nurseries, schools, colleges and special units.
  • Universities.
  • Hospitals, e.g. NHS, private and psychiatric.
  • Health centres and local clinics.
  • GP surgeries.
  • Psychiatric units.
  • Residential homes.
  • Advice and support centres.
  • Their own home or private practices.
  • Patients’ homes.
  • Rehabilitation units.
  • Research facilities and sites.
  • Business premises.
  • Prisons.
  • Courts and other legal settings.
  • Changing rooms and training grounds (sports).


Most psychologist opportunities in the UK are with the NHS.

Individuals can also work for other public bodies and private organisations, for example:

  • Private healthcare providers.
  • Universities.
  • Government departments.
  • The Ministry of Defence.
  • Local authorities, e.g. in education settings.
  • The prison service.
  • The civil service.
  • Social services.
  • Research organisations.
  • Charities.
  • Sports teams.
  • Employers.


They can also be self-employed and work for themselves or an agency.

Most psychologist opportunities tend to be in cities and large towns. However, self-employed psychologists may have their own practices in smaller towns and even rural areas.

Psychology becoming a Psychologist

How much do psychologists earn?

If a psychologist works for the NHS, their salary is subject to a band pay system (agenda for change pay rates).

For example (these are a guide only and are subject to change):

  • Trainee (band 6) – £35,392–£42,618.
  • Qualified (band 7) – £43,742–£50,056.
  • More experienced (band 8a-8b) – £50,952–£68,525.
  • Consultants (band 8c-8d) – £70,417–£81,138.
  • Heads of services and directors – £99,891–£114,949.


The exact salaries for psychologists will depend on the role, location, specialisms, qualifications and years of experience. As individuals progress in their careers, there may be opportunities to enter more senior positions, and the band will increase.

Here are some further examples of average annual earnings:

  • £36,065 (Payscale).
  • £37,658 (Indeed UK).
  • £41,659 starter to £54,619 experienced (National Careers Service).
  • £45,582.53 (Check-a-Salary).
  • £45,582.53 (Check-a-Salary).


There is potential for psychologists to earn more if they work in other settings, e.g. private practice. Experienced individuals may also earn higher salaries if they combine their roles with other areas, such as teaching or research.

A self-employed psychologist’s salary is variable, as most will set their own rates. It will also depend on how many patients they have, their hours, their qualifications and specialisms, and the expenses they have to pay, e.g. utilities, training, premises, registration and research.

Psychologist Comforting Client

Types of psychology to specialise in

There are many different areas in psychology in which to specialise. Some examples include (this list is not exhaustive):

Child psychology

  • These psychologists specialise in working with children with mental and physical health problems.
  • They conduct clinical assessments, make diagnoses and provide treatments and therapy.
  • They are usually clinical psychologists and work mainly in the NHS in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).


Clinical psychology

  • These psychologists help people with a range of mental and physical health problems.
  • They work mainly in health and social care settings such as hospitals, health centres, community mental health teams, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) and social services.
  • Most work for the NHS.
  • They can also conduct research.
  • Please see our article on becoming a clinical psychologist for further information.


Counselling psychology

  • These psychologists specialise in using psychological and psychotherapeutic theory and research to help patients with various mental health problems.
  • They examine people’s experiences and explore underlying issues that may have caused their mental health conditions.
  • They can work in various settings, but most are in health and social care settings.


Educational psychology

  • These psychologists work in education settings, such as schools, colleges, nurseries and special units.
  • They assist children and young people experiencing difficulties impacting their learning and development.
  • They can liaise with teachers, social services, educational departments, parents and guardians.


Health psychology

  • These psychologists specialise in treating psychological difficulties directly related to physical health conditions, such as life-threatening illnesses, chronic painful conditions, sudden physical traumas, painful or complex medical and surgical procedures, etc.
  • They also promote well-being and healthy behaviours across the population, e.g. stopping smoking and losing weight.
  • They commonly work in hospitals and community settings.


Forensic psychology

  • These psychologists study criminal behaviour in forensic settings, e.g. crime and legal.
  • They assess and help offenders who have mental health problems or intellectual disabilities and have committed serious crimes.
  • Further information on this role is on NHS Health Careers.



  • These psychologists specialise in the relationship between the brain, behaviour and neuropsychological function.
  • These psychologists assess, diagnose and treat patients with various conditions, such as neurodevelopmental, neurological, medical and psychiatric, usually caused by brain injuries or diseases.
  • They also work with patients with cognitive and learning development disorders.


Occupational psychology

  • These psychologists specialise in working with organisations and businesses of various sizes and apply psychological knowledge to workplace issues.
  • They observe workplace performance and how workers, colleagues, groups and businesses behave and function.
  • They aim to improve organisational effectiveness and employee satisfaction.


Sports and exercise psychology

  • These psychologists specialise in applying psychology to sports and exercise.
  • They can work with the general public, amateur sportspeople, athletes, teams and coaches.
  • They aim to improve participation, personal development, motivation and performance.


The BPS has further information on psychology specialisms here.

Psychologists can also specialise in various mental health disorders or behavioural problems, such as addiction, depression, anxiety, personality disorder, eating disorder, etc. They may decide to specialise in one area, such as depression or addiction, or many.

They can also specialise in specific psychological therapies, such as Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) services, dialectical behaviour therapy or family and systemic psychotherapy.

All different psychologist roles will require differing knowledge, skills, experience and qualities. Psychologists need extensive knowledge of psychology, behaviour and mental health. They will also need to know how to build relationships based on trust with their patients and be able to assess, diagnose and treat various mental health issues. Any additional areas of expertise will depend on what an organisation is looking for and the work a psychologist wants. Some may need specific qualifications and training for specialised areas.

If psychologists do not do their role effectively, it can put patients (and others) at risk. In worse cases, it may even cost lives. Therefore, whatever the type of role, they must have the necessary competence (knowledge, skills and experience) to carry out the work professionally and safely. They should also know the limits of their competency and not use assessments and treatments if they are not trained and competent.

Psychologist job

Professional bodies

Standards, assessments, research, treatments, therapies and laws are updated regularly. Therefore, psychologists must keep ahead of the latest developments and changes to remain legally compliant and carry out their roles effectively and safely. CPD gives psychologists the knowledge and skills to keep up to date with these changes and understand their responsibilities. It also helps them stay registered with an accredited body and allows them to progress in their career.

Joining a professional body or association, covered earlier, can help prospective and current psychologists enhance their skills and overall career. These can offer different levels of membership, CPD, advice and support, access to industry contacts and networking events.

There is an opportunity for career progression, especially in the NHS. With more qualifications and experience, a psychologist can enter more senior roles, such as a clinical supervisor or manager, a consultant or director, or move into specialised jobs, such as child psychology, forensic psychology and neuropsychology. As they gain more experience and progress their pay band will increase.

Psychologists can also decide to focus on specific mental health and behaviour problems, such as psychosis or addiction. Alternatively, they may become self-employed, set up their own practice or work as a freelance consultant.

Knowledge, skills and experience in psychology can also lead to a career in different areas. For example, a psychologist may want to work in education, training or research. They may want to work in other psychology areas or mental health services, or they may decide to combine psychology with additional roles.